Peter Brock, 82, is one of the world’s most acclaimed car designers, with classics the likes of the Corvette Sting Ray, Cobra Daytona Coupe, Triumph TR250K (the inspiration for the TR7), the Datsun 240Z and the Aerovault trailer to his name. He speaks with MojehMen about his career.
“Design is design, whether it’s a car or a watch and if you have good taste it usually works out. It’s all about getting that refinement right – that’s something that really concerns me, especially because you still want any design, car or watch, to have an impact. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of bad design out there,” says Peter Brock.
“For me, a car is all about function – the only true matter is how it works – but most car design today is governed by fashion. A lot of designers put lines all over the place and the result is ugly. Software means they can design cars without the sensitivity that came with spending days getting forms right in clay.
“Very few car designers can put lines everywhere and make it work – and most of them go way back. Of course, they also worked without the regulations that govern a lot of car design today – safety considerations like bumper heights. Really that’s why I’ve always preferred to work with high performance cars for the track, because there are fewer regulations. But even that is changing. It’s not the pure design it used to be.
“Beautiful cars – the ones that become classics – tend to get that beauty from aerodynamics. And the golden era I worked in was all about aerodynamics. If you look at the Daytona Coupe, with that chopped off back end, that has become a standard now, as you can see with cars like the Toyota Prius. In one way it’s ugly too – there aren’t the sweeping lines right to the tail. But those long lines are aerodynamically inefficient. So to me what’s ugly has a functional beauty,” says Brock.
“New ideas like that get laughed at first – and I had a struggle to push that through. But a design that works becomes self-evidently successful. Anyone can design something radical – but you have to design it so it can be made commercially too. I always advise young car designers not to try to put everything into one car – less is more – though I wish I’d got to work with the kind of new materials they work with now, the likes of carbon fibre. They make new forms possible.
“It helps that I grew up a hot rodder on the streets of California. And, then as now, what was really important to hot rodders was the car’s stance and proportions. If either are wrong it’s all wrong. I worked with a guy at GM who designed the ’32 Ford, one of the most beautiful cars ever – and that was based on a hot rod. Hot rodding was why I loved cars and why I still tinker. That said, I drive an SUV now. It bothers me that designers of trucks and SUVs don’t get the recognition that deserve because their products are pure function and lack the glamour of fast cars. Take those fast cars into the desert and you’d soon find that you’d have a much better time in the SUV. In its own forum an SUV can be superb. It pays to respect that.”